Serbia’s public broadcaster RTS hosted its first discussion between proponents and opponents of Rio Tinto’s lithium project Jadar from the academic community. It was the first such debate on the project, which was stopped by the Government of Serbia nine months ago, even though the protests started more than two years ago. Later they spread all over the country.
The advantages and disadvantages of the potential exploitation of the jadarite mineral in Serbia were presented by Dinko Knežević, professor at the Faculty of Mining and Geology in Belgrade, Aleksandar Jovović, professor at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering in Belgrade, Dragana Đorđević, scientific advisor from the Institute of Chemistry, Technology and Metallurgy, and Ratko Ristić, vice-rector for international cooperation at the University of Belgrade and professor at the Faculty of Forestry.
After the debate, the Kreni-promeni activist initiative noted that it submitted an official request to RTS twenty days before to organize a public debate with experts on lithium mining in Serbia.
“We gave them a deadline of seven days. After they didn’t answer, we invited citizens to write them emails through our platform. After 2,850 emails, RTS has scheduled a public debate,” the organization added.
Knežević, Jovović: Sustainable and safe exploitation of jadarite is possible
Professors Dinko Knežević and Aleksandar Jovović said that sustainable and safe exploitation of jadarite is possible in Serbia.
Dinko Knežević, a professor at the Faculty of Mining and Geology in Belgrade, stated that the technology that would be applied by Rio Tinto is an original patent, RTS reported.
He claims the usual methods would be used in mining and waste disposal, and that there is nothing to fear.
According to the documentation, Rio Tinto developed a technology that will have a minimal impact on the environment, said Knežević.
Jovović: The problem is the distrust which occurred from the start
Aleksandar Jovović, a professor at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering in Belgrade, expressed the belief that jadarite mining is possible if certain protective measures are implemented.
He asserted that Rio Tinto would use thousands of times less water than what the project’s opponents claim.
The question is not whether it can be built, the issue is the distrust about the future production process, said Jovović, adding that the obstacle arose in the very beginning.
Jovović stressed that the water that would be discharged into local rivers will be so purified that it will have to be remineralized in order not to jeopardize water streams.
Đorđević, Ristić: The compromise is to leave the lithium reserves to future generations
However, Dragana Đorđević and Ratko Ristić believe that sustainable exploitation of jadarite is not possible in the Jadar area.
Dragana Đorđević from the Institute of Chemistry, Technology and Metallurgy said the proposed technology would be disastrous for the environment, especially in an area like Jadar. She underscored that Germany has almost three times more lithium reserves than Serbia, but that it doesn’t want to open mines.
Đorđević said Jadar is very rich in potable water and that it has one of the best sources of such water, enough to supply 85 million people. There are no crops at the locations of test wells because toxic underground water is leaking, she added.
The compromise solution would be to leave lithium reserves for future generations until state institutions and inspections become capable to control such mining, she said.
Ristić: Lithium is currently mined in deserts and uninhabited areas
Ratko Ristić, a professor at the Faculty of Forestry in Belgrade, said that according to Rio Tinto’s study, 1,100 tons of concentrated sulfuric acid and several tens of tons of explosives for underground exploitation would be used every day for the exploitation and processing of jadarite.
In the first phase, 2,000 hectares would be affected, and 20,000 people would later come under risk, Ristić added. He also noted that lithium is currently exploited mainly in deserts and uninhabited areas.
Lithium is not the best material for the production of batteries, and there are alternatives such as sodium-ion and graphene batteries, said Ristić.